Sunday, May 3, 2009

Why is Celestial Navigation still a test subject for Merchant Marine Officers

Celestial navigation is still included on license exams for ocean routes for a number of reasons.

First, celestial navigation is among the required competencies in the applicable part of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978, as amended (STCW). For example, the minimum standard of competence for an officer in charge of a navigational watch includes the "ability to use celestial bodies to determine the ship's position." The STCW is undergoing a comprehensive review and celestial navigation is among the areas receiving attention.

While it is too early to tell the outcome of this review, the position of the United States is that while the role of celestial navigation has significantly diminished, it should not be eliminated entirely. Celestial navigation performs an important function as a backup means of navigation in the event that other navigation modes fail.

Second, the use of either azimuths or amplitudes of a celestial body is the only way to determine accurately a ship's compass error when operating outside of the visual range of terrestrial objects. The United States supports limiting the celestial navigation requirements to those necessary to perform its backup navigation role and in order to perform compass error corrections.

It is worth noting that although they have not eliminated celestial navigation from the license examinations, they have made changes that reflect its diminished use in everyday watchkeeping. In early 2002, they reduced the minimum passing grade for celestial navigation exam modules from 90 percent to 80 percent. They believe this reduction is consistent with the reduced (but not eliminated) role celestial navigation plays in modern watchkeeping.

Notwithstanding their agreement that the role of celestial navigation has diminished, its use in prudent navigation has not been entirely eliminated and the Coast Guard does not have any immediate plans to eliminate celestial navigation from its license examinations through the amendment of their regulations found at 46 CFR 10.910.